Views from around the world
The Telegraph of London on the European Union:
Of all the distortions and misunderstandings propagated by the politicians who sought to keep Britain inside the European Union, perhaps the worst was the idea that EU membership represented a commitment to economic openness and free markets while leaving would be an act of economic regression, a rejection of free markets in favor of closed economies and the policies of the past.
As with so many of the Remain camp’s arguments, the evidence since Britain’s referendum vote has shown this one to be wholly incorrect. Just as the UK economy has so far failed to live up to the Remainers’ prophesies of doom, so the EU has failed utterly to demonstrate the commitment to economic openness they insisted on attributing to it.
Indeed, the EU has done the opposite, showing that it is instinctively opposed to the free-trade and pro-business policies that are the best way to deliver prosperity, freedom and fairness.
The European Commission’s dealings with Apple and Ireland are a textbook example of what is wrong with the EU, both economically and politically. Economically, a punitive approach to the taxation of highly mobile international corporations is an act of self-harm: such firms can and will relocate to countries that do not seek to milk them for every penny of tax they can.
Politically, it is an affront to democracy that the unelected Commission in Brussels should presume to dictate to Ireland’s government what taxes it should levy. Nor is this an approach only applied to smaller states: last week, some EU leaders warned Britain against further cuts in corporation tax.
Meanwhile, politicians in Germany and France are in an unseemly rush to declare the death of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the proposed free-trade deal between the EU and the US. TTIP as drafted was not perfect (what international agreement is?) and the economic gains may not be as large as some advocates suggest. But the detail is less important than the broad principle: the more countries trade with each other, the richer and more stable the world becomes. And the EU has rejected free trade.
These depressing events are the background for today’s Cabinet meeting to discuss Britain’s departure from the EU. It is inevitable that the issue of our relationship with whatever remains of the EU will consume much political time and energy. But we must remember that UK-EU relations are only part of the future. Outside the EU we will be free to pursue the ideals of free trade and free markets with new vigor.
Downing Street’s reaction to the Apple case was the right one: if Ireland and the EU do not want a huge, wealth-creating firm doing business in their territory, Apple will be very welcome in the UK. Britain’s approach to trade should be the same. If the EU does not wish to strike a deal with the world’s biggest economy, Britain will happily pursue a free-trade agreement. Being an EU member technically prevents the UK from starting trade negotiations with other states, a restriction that is one of the best reasons for Theresa May to get Brexit under way sooner rather than later.
Whenever our departure comes, however, we must remember that Brexit brings opportunities and that many of these will be found far away from an EU that is showing its true colors as a hidebound and inward-looking organization unfit for the 21st century.
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The Los Angeles Times on gerrymandering:
Partisan gerrymandering — the drawing of legislative districts to benefit one political party at the expense of another — is a venerable feature of American politics. It’s also an insidious and anti-democratic practice.
Especially with the advent of sophisticated computer programs, districts can be designed so that a party can exercise influence in a state legislature or congressional delegation obscenely out of proportion to its overall support — while satisfying the “one-person, one-vote” requirement that districts be roughly the same size.
For example, under a redistricting plan approved by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature, that state elected nine Republicans and four Democrats to the U.S. House in 2012 — even though 51 percent of North Carolina voters cast ballots for a Democrat.
Another consequence of gerrymandering is a lack of competition between the parties on election day. According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, only 56 races for the U.S. House out of 435 contests this year are considered competitive. It’s easy to game the outcome of elections by creating districts that are either “packed” with a surplus of voters of one party or “cracked” so there aren’t enough members of that party to make a competitive election possible.
Either way — to borrow a phrase often heard in this year’s presidential campaign — the system of congressional districting in too many states is rigged. But the federal courts, which long have intervened in the drawing of district lines to guard against the abridgment of voting rights on the basis of race, have been skittish about tackling partisan gerrymandering.
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering could be challenged as unconstitutional if it involved “intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group and an actual discriminatory effect on that group.”
Yet in that case the court didn’t actually find such a violation, and in 2004, four justices led by the late Antonin Scalia said that the court should essentially stop looking. Scalia argued that the court should overturn its 1986 decision and admit that “no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating political gerrymandering claims have emerged.”
Fortunately, Scalia’s expression of futility 12 years ago was not the last word. As partisan gerrymandering continues to marginalize voters and paralyze the political process, courts have been forced to look at the issue anew. Two cases demonstrate that this problem is not going away.
One comes from North Carolina, where Republican legislators recently tweaked the map mentioned above after a court held that it constituted a racial gerrymander. But, like the previous version, the new map provides a lopsided advantage for Republicans and has provoked claims of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. One legislator involved in the latest redistricting acknowledged that “we are going to use political data . to gain a partisan advantage on the map.”
Meanwhile, Republicans in Maryland allege that a congressional map adopted by that state’s Democratic-controlled legislature in 2011 violated their constitutional rights. The new map changed the borders of one district traditionally represented by a Republican so that it no longer included 65,000 registered Republican voters but did include 30,000 new Democratic ones. In the 2012 election, the district was won by a Democrat, reducing the number of Republicans in the state’s eight-member delegation from two to one. Last week, a three-judge federal court ruled that the case should go to trial.
It’s too soon to say that days of partisan gerrymandering are numbered. But it’s significant that the Supreme Court last year unanimously rejected a claim that the Maryland suit couldn’t go forward.
Also, while past arguments against partisan gerrymandering have emphasized the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws, opponents of the Maryland map are focusing on the 1st Amendment’s free-speech protections. (Challengers to the North Carolina plan also make a 1st Amendment argument.)
That approach echoes Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s opinion in the 2004 case. Kennedy emphasized that allegations of partisan gerrymandering “involve the 1st Amendment interest of not burdening or penalizing citizens because of their participation in the electoral process, their voting history, their association with a political party, or their expression of political views.” When legislators move voters from one district to another because of the way they have voted in the past — and the way they are expected to vote in the future — that certainly looks like what is known as viewpoint discrimination.
If and when the high court revisits partisan gerrymandering, it will need to address an objection raised by Scalia in the 2004 case: that, unlike race, “political affiliation is not an immutable characteristic, but may shift from one election to the next; and even within a given election, not all voters follow the party line.”
That’s true, but if party loyalties didn’t exist and persist over time in geographical areas, gerrymandering wouldn’t be such a popular tactic.
Judicial intervention isn’t the only way to address partisan gerrymandering. For instance, some states, including California, have taken the drawing of congressional districts out of the hands of state legislatures and entrusted them to citizens’ commissions, an option the Supreme Court declared constitutional last year.
But, as in other areas, the Supreme Court must be willing to step in where the other branches of government refuse to act.
The New York Times on the United States’ Cuba migration policy:
Nine Latin American governments this week called on the United States to end its preferential immigration policy for Cubans, calling it “discriminatory” and a boon to human smuggling networks in the region.
In a rare public letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the foreign ministers of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru requested a high-level meeting to discuss a policy that they said is fueling the “disorderly, irregular and unsafe” migration of Cubans through their countries.
Under the policy known as “wet foot, dry foot,” Cubans who reach American soil are generally allowed to become permanent residents within one year and to apply for citizenship after six. Those apprehended at sea are turned back.
This policy was established in the 1990s, when thousands of Cubans were fleeing by boat because departures from the island by air were tightly controlled. Since 2013, when Havana lifted the exit travel permit requirement for its citizens, tens of thousands of Cubans have embarked on long journeys to the United States, often by first taking a flight to another country in the region and then making their way to Mexico’s northern border. The number of Cubans admitted to the United States has grown sharply each year since 2013. More than 125,000 have been resettled here over the past four years.
This migration has spawned human smuggling operations across South and Central America and strained the resources of countries that have had to provide shelter to the thousands who get stranded along the way — often for several months. Ecuador was a favored starting point until Quito began requiring Cubans to obtain visas last November. Since then, the tide has shifted to tiny Guyana, which continues to admit Cubans without visas.
“Encouraged by the U.S. ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy, Cuban migrants often become victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence,” Guillaume Long, the foreign minister of Ecuador, said in a statement. “It is time for the United States to change its outdated policy for Cuban migrants, which is undermining regular and safe migration in our continent.”
Even as the Obama administration has taken bold steps to normalize relations with Cuba, it has been reluctant to rescind the Cuban immigration policy, fearing that a change would set off an even larger exodus. But delay will make this nettlesome problem only worse. If the Obama administration refuses to act, the issue will have to be resolved by the next administration.
As it stands, this anachronistic policy is irrational, strains relations with America’s neighbors and endangers lives. It also has the effect of easing pressure on Cuba’s authoritarian government to make economic and political reforms by offering an incentive to those who are most dissatisfied with the status quo to take a dangerous way out.
The Miami Herald on rumors about Hillary Clinton’s health:
Eight years ago, at a campaign town hall meeting in Minnesota, a woman told Republican nominee John McCain that she was troubled by the prospect of a Barack Obama presidency.
“I can’t trust Obama,” the woman said into a wireless microphone Sen. McCain had handed her. “I have read about him and he’s not, he’s not, uh — he’s an Arab.”
It was a sentiment Republicans had expressed frequently at events that week in 2008. It was, for Sen. McCain, a moment that candidates regularly face — a decision about which thresholds they’ll allow their campaigns to cross.
So it is — once again — with Donald Trump. This time it involves old rumors that Hillary Clinton has significant, hidden health issues. Until recently, those murmurings had mostly resided in the same dark corners of the internet that other conspiracy theories fester. No longer.
Last week, Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that the media were covering up “several signs” of Ms. Clinton’s health problems. “Go online and put down, ‘Hillary Clinton illness,’ take a look at the videos for yourself,” Giuliani said, incredibly.
We’ll save you the trouble. The videos claim that Ms. Clinton is hiding varying levels of head injury or brain affliction. Her health is in severe decline, they say, and as proof they offer (falsified) medical records signed by Clinton’s physician.
As with many conspiracy theories, the Clinton health claims grew from a seed of truth, in this case Ms. Clinton falling and sustaining a concussion in December 2012. She was hospitalized that month and treated for a blood clot in a vein behind her ear, but she has had no similar episodes since, including during this year’s grueling campaign.
That hasn’t stopped the speculation, which begins on pro-Trump social media accounts and is fanned by media types such as Matt Drudge and Fox News personality Sean Hannity. It wouldn’t be fair, certainly, to hold Mr. Trump or any candidate responsible for all the wild things supporters say. But his campaign has jumped in the mud with the conspiracists.
Spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told MSNBC that Clinton has dysphasia, a brain condition that affects a person’s ability to speak and comprehend language. Ms. Pierson, apparently, has some of Mr. Giuliani’s internet sites bookmarked. “There are really interesting things out there,” she said.
Mr. Trump, for his part, hasn’t yet directly engaged in speculation about a Clinton brain injury, choosing instead the barely higher road of questioning her stamina and strength.
This is the point at which we’d normally urge Mr. Trump to disavow speculation about dysphasia, concussions and the rest. But given his fondness for conspiracies — he was an enthusiastic Obama birther — we know that’s not going to happen.
Instead, we’ll finish the story of John McCain and the Minnesota town hall. It’s a reminder that at least some of the choice voters will be making this November is how we want to engage in discourse, political and otherwise, in this country.
“No, ma’am,” the Arizona senator said about Obama being an Arab. “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign’s all about.”
Maybe Mr. Giuliani can Google that.